Turmeric Could Help Treat Stroke and Other Brain and Nerve Injuries

Turmeric compounds may help prevent or treat brain and nerve injuries, including concussions.

A stroke is what happens when clogged and damaged arteries block blood supply in the brain, and is a common type of acquired brain injury. Other nerve and traumatic brain injuries are caused by external factors. All brain injuries, whether acquired (internally caused) or traumatic, can cause brain damage and lost cognitive brain function (such as ability to think and remember). (iv.348)

Why Do Strokes Cause Brain Damage?

The initial blockage that causes the stroke is only partly responsible for direct brain injury. The restricted blood flow initially starves cells in an area of the brain of the oxygen and nutrients needed to function and survive. This harmful deprivation is referred to as ischemia, and if blood flow isn't returned brain cells die. (iv.348)

However, although return of blood flow is necessary for survival, it can actually cause more tissue damage. Technically referred to as ischemia-reperfusion injury, tissue damage occurs because the sudden influx of oxygen molecules in the blood triggers inflammatory responses. Primarily due to activation of the transcription factor protein NF-κB, the inflammation produces harmful free radicals(iv.348)

Figure IV.24: Chain of Events in a Stroke

Chain of Events in a Stroke

Free radical stress and inflammation further damages cells and saps cell energy. Because of the energy demands related to healing the initial injury, this can quickly overwhelm strained energy resources. Without rapid treatment, destruction of neuron brain cells, permanent brain damage, loss of physical and cognitive functioning, and even death can occur from a stroke. (iv.348)

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) that causes bleeding on or in the brain can also induce brain damage and death. TBI and stroke can also potentially contribute to the development of Alzheimer's disease(iv.38112224140141)

Lab studies suggest that turmeric compounds such as curcumin, ar-turmerone, α- and β turmerones, and curlone can help lower the risks associated with stroke and brain injury by: (iv.38112224140141)

  • Preventing lesions and other damage in cerebral arteries.
  • Restoring cell energy production.
  • Maintaining levels of protective antioxidant enzymes in the brain.
  • Protecting against brain damage caused by free radicals and inflammation.
  • Preventing stroke-induced damage to blood-brain barrier.

Research also indicates that curcumin could help reduce the symptoms and loss of function associated with nerve damage(iv.2)

Evidence of Curcumin's Benefit

Researchers have tested the effects of the turmeric compound curcumin using animal models of brain injuries (including stroke). Results suggest that curcumin could provide protective and healing benefits both before and after injury:

Curcumin Treatment in Brain & Nerve Injuries

Brain Hematomas

Spinal Cord Injury

Sciatic Nerve Crush

  • Loss of nerve cells. (iv.2)
  • Significantly improved impaired motor functioning. (iv.2)


Treatment after a stroke: In one animal study, a single 1-2 mg/kg of body weight injection of curcumin within 30 minutes of returning blood flow after a stroke significantly reduced damage from ischemia reperfusion injury. (iv.38222325142143)

Combined pre- and post-stroke treatment: Curcumin doses of 100 mg/kg of body weight reduced the area of injury in the brain. (iv.38222325142143)

Specific effects and mechanisms demonstrated in this and other lab and animal studies include: (iv.38222325142143)

  • Nitric oxide type of free radicals that break down the blood-brain barrier and damage the endothelial cells that line blood vessels.
  • Research suggests turmeric compounds may help prevent and treat many types of brain and nerve injuries, including strokes and concussions.
  • Restores cell energy production by mitochondria.
  • Swelling and infarct area of damage in brain.
  • Helps preserve brain cognitive function.
  • Mortality.
  • Antioxidant-producing and detoxifying transcription factor Nrf2.
  • Naturally-produced antioxidant HO-1 in astrocytes and neurons.
  • Bcl-2, a survival protein that helps repair DNA.
  • Caspase-3, a protein that executes signals for cell death.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

Studies show that curcumin has the following beneficial effects: (iv.22)

  • uMtCK, a mitochondrial kinase enzyme that protects cells during times of high energy use. In instances of TBI, brain cells need tremendous amounts of ATP cell energy for healing and repair.
  • COX-2, the cytochrome C oxidase II enzyme in the mitochondria's electron transport chain that makes ATP cellular energy.
  • Sir2, a HDAC longevity enzyme that helps maintain brain function.
  • UCP2, a protein that regulates metabolism of ATP cell energy by the mitochondria.

The effects of curcumin on these important proteins explain in part how taking curcumin supplements helps stabilize and restore the following after trauma: (iv.22)

  • Mitochondrial function.
  • Cell energy balance.
  • Levels of the neuron-protective growth factor BDNF. Research shows that normalizing and boosting mitochondrial energy production can help counteract cognitive impairment caused by TBI. (iv.22)

Other Helpful Turmeric Compounds

Although curcumin is the most researched polyphenol compound in turmeric, experiments demonstrate that the components of turmeric's essential oils are also beneficial. In one study using an animal model, researchers administered turmeric oil (500 mg/kg of body weight) 4 hours after stroke. (iv.24)

MRI and neurological test were conducted on the curcumin and placebo-treated rats immediately before treatment and twice more after treatment. Results demonstrated the turmeric oil significantly reduced tissue damage and symptoms of inflammation: (iv.24)

  • Within 1 hour of treatment, measurements taken by MRI scan showed that turmeric oil had already significantly reduced the size of the lesion by 62.6% and the swelling by caused by the stroke.
  • Turmeric oil's anti-inflammatory properties suppressed swelling for 24 hours after treatment. This prevented further damage to mitochondria. Doing so:
    • Preserved cell energy production.
    • Protected brain cells from death.
    • Reduced the risk of a second stroke caused by the toxic free radical levels that occur after stroke.
  • Neurological test results showed turmeric oil helped preserve brain function.

How did turmeric treatment provide such dramatic beneficial protection of brain cells after a stroke? Experiments done on the brain tissue of the test animals showed the following: (iv.24)

Figure IV.25: How Turmeric Oil Protects Brain Cells After Stroke

How Turmeric Oil Protects Brain Cells After Stroke

In addition, animal studies show that ar-turmerone compounds help regenerate neural stem cells, which could help replace damaged brain cells. Turmerones are the main compounds in turmeric oil. (iv.183184)

Researchers replicate human strokes by injecting fibrin clots into the carotid artery, causing a sudden blockage of the middle artery in the brain. (iv.24)
A process called reperfusion. (iv.348)
TNF-α, IL-6, and IL-1β. (iv.2)
Conversely, lab studies show that curcumin blocks production of Bcl-2 in medulloblastoma (the most common type of brain cancer in children). (iv.142)
However, curcumin stimulates production of caspase-3 in brain cancer cells. (iv.143)

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